Guide to TJ's Coffee Character

February 16, 2016 in Category: Guides

Guide to TJ's Coffee Character

While a professional cupper may give rank to acidity, and a casual sipper may talk about a brew’s “bite,” they are describing the same thing—coffee character. There are many factors that influence how coffee expresses itself in your cup. These include cultivar, micro-climate, harvesting techniques, processing, roasting, even your own brewing methods. Since the nuance is so expansive, we're narrowing our focus to two simple yet important criteria—geographic origin and roast—of Trader Joe’s coffees to help you identify what kind of characters with which you’d like to fill your cup.

 
Trader Joe's Coffee in the Belt

Geographic Origin

All coffee is grown between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn in a region known as the “Bean Belt.” This Equatorial zone offers the coffee-bean-growing trifecta: high altitudes, tropical climates and rich (volcanic) soil. That being said, there is a fair amount of variation, depending on the specific country or even the specific farm or plot of land, upon which the coffee is grown – amount of rainfall to sunshine, soil chemistry, and precise altitude all being factors. For instance, the rich volcanic soil, plentiful rainfall and warm pacific winds of Hawaii lead to generally mild, subtle flavors. In contrast, the high-grown beans from the plateaus of Mt. Kenya, mature slowly and grow to be dense and intense.

You can evaluate these nuances best in beans that come from a single origin (versus a blend of beans from multiple countries, mixed together to create a desired flavor profile). While there is not yet a standard definition for “single origin,” we characterize it as coffee that is grown in a single geographic area – be it a region (like our Colombian Supremo Coffee), an estate (like our 100% Kona Coffee) or multiple farms in a specific region (like or Kenya AA Coffee).  

 

Roasting

While examining the geographic origin is a great starting point, some say the real character of the coffee beans is forged in the fires. Literally. The degree to which coffee beans are roasted influences how they look and how they express themselves in the cup. All beans start green, soft, with a “grassy” smell and little taste. The heat process transforms the appearance – shading the beans from dry and light brown to oily and dark brown. More importantly, it elicits and influences the essential flavors and aromas of the coffee.

Trader Joe's Coffee Bean Roasting Chart
 

Field Notes & Findings

Yeah, yeah, yeah… but how does the origin and roast actually translate to the character in your cup? There was only one way to really find out. Inspect, brew and cup (taste) the whole batch. Following are the notes about Trader Joe’s Single Origin Coffee, including our field notes (on origin and roast) and our findings (observations about each coffee’s character).

 
TJ’s Fair Trade Organic Guatemalan Coffee

 

TJ’s Fair Trade Organic Guatemalan Coffee

FIELD NOTES

Geographic Origin: Sustainable, family-owned farms in Huehuetenango, Guatemala 
Elevation: 6000 feet
Growing Conditions: Some of the highest and driest climates of the non-volcanic regions. Thanks to the dry, hot winds, the region is protected from frost, allowing the trees to be cultivated at high elevations, making the beans Strictly High Grown. The beans ripen slowly and mature into a denser, harder bean with pronounced acidity and intense flavor—perfect for dark roasting. 
Roast: Extra Dark 
Price: $6.99 for 13 oz 

FINDINGS

Bean Appearance: Very dark, very oily 
Tasting Notes: Bold but not burnt. Smokey with roast-y caramelized notes at the end. No bitterness. Very Smooth. 
Character: Your morning wake up cup. Add a little sugar to enhance the flavors. Drip coffee prodigals will gladly return to this brew. 

 
TJ’s 100% Kona Coffee

 

TJ’s 100% Kona Coffee

FIELD NOTES

Geographic Origin: Single estate on mountain slopes of Mauna Loa, in the Kona district of the Big Island of Hawaii
Elevation: 2000 feet
Growing Conditions: Average annual rainfall 100 inches, gentle afternoon cloud cover, pacific trade winds, active volcanic soils
Roast: Medium
Price: $19.99 for 13 oz

FINDINGS

Bean Appearance: Medium with light oiliness
Tasting Notes: Rich and round, heavy on the back of the tongue, NO bitterness, really smooth
Character: Sunday brunch or fancy dinner party (you know, the good dishes kind)
Interesting Insight: These beans are hand picked, dried naturally in the sun, and then roasted in small batches to ensure a consistent, medium, and smooth roast.

 
TJ’s Costa Rica Tarrazu

TJ’s Costa Rica Tarrazu

FIELD NOTES

Geographic Origin: Co-op in a sub-region of Tarrazu (the highest elevation coffee region in Costa Rica)
Elevation: 6,000 feet
Growing Conditions: Rich volcanic soil, shady, and mild, high-altitude climate
Roast: Medium-Dark
Price: $6.99 for 13 oz

FINDINGS

Bean Appearance: Medium-Dark with moderate oiliness
Tasting Notes: Definitely a medium-darker roast… so dark, you can’t see the bottom of your cup, rich, full flavored, some bitterness, smooth finish
Character: First cup of coffee – gives you a good punch in the mouth

 
TJ’s Colombia Supremo Coffee

 

TJ’s Colombia Supremo Coffee

FIELD NOTES

Geographic Origin:  Popayán region
Elevation: 5,770 feet
Growing Conditions: Heavy rain fall (80 inches annually), cool mountainous climate
Roast: Medium
Price: $6.99 for 14 oz

FINDINGS

Bean Appearance: Medium-Light with light oiliness
Tasting Notes: slightly vegetal aroma, mellow but by no means mild, notes of caramel sweetness, the label really says it all (“sweet and rich”), so smooth
Character: Everyday – we could drink a lot of this coffee!
Interesting Insight: Supremo is a grading term used mostly in Colombia to identify the largest beans of the harvest. The bigger coffee beans usually contain more of the precious oils that create brewed coffee’s flavor and aroma. As such, some argue the bigger beans are better.

 
TJ’s Organic Fair Trade Honduran Coffee

TJ’s Organic Fair Trade Honduran Coffee

FIELD NOTES

Geographic Origin:  Marcala region in southwestern Honduras
Elevation: 4,300 to 5,500 feet
Growing Conditions: Heavy rain fall (80 inches annually), mountainous terrain, tropical climate
Roast: Medium-Dark
Price: $6.99 for 14 oz

FINDINGS

Bean Appearance: Medium with light oiliness
Tasting Notes: smells a lot darker than it looks, see right through to the bottom of the mug light, much more of a medium-roast flavor, very mellow and light
Character: Meet and greet coffee, perfect with a kringle or pie

 
TJ’s Kenya AA Coffee

 

TJ’s Kenya AA Coffee

FIELD NOTES

Geographic Origin: Grown in the high plateaus of Mt. Kenya on small farms
Elevation: 6,000 feet
Growing Conditions: rich volcanic soil, shady conditions and a mild, high-altitude climate
Roast: Medium
Price: $6.99 for 13 oz

FINDINGS

Bean Appearance: Medium-Light with little to no oiliness
Tasting Notes: yes!, strong!, acidic, tart (zingy on the sides of your tongue), dry, Champagne-like finish
Character: Afternoon pick-me-up – great for adventurous sippers looking to expand their palate
Interesting Insight: Similar to Colombia “Supremo,” these beans are graded “AA” because they are the largest of the harvest (17/64ths to 18/64ths of an inch in diameter).

 
TJ’s Organic Fair Trade Shade Grown Ethiopian Coffee

 

TJ’s Organic Fair Trade Shade Grown Ethiopian Coffee

FIELD NOTES

Geographic Origin: Hafursa, Gedeo Zone in the Yirgacheffe district of Ethiopia
Elevation: 6,300 to 7,500 feet
Growing Conditions: shade grown in loamy soils, tropical climates
Roast: Medium-Dark
Price: $9.99 for 13 oz

FINDINGS

Bean Appearance: Small (Peaberry-like) dark color, with moderate oiliness
Tasting Notes: Looks super light, body is light – almost tea-like – with persuasive floral and fruit notes
Character: Give it to your mother-in-law when you run out of tea; make it a late afternoon ritual, accompanied by scone or cookies
Interesting Insight: coffee grown in the shade is not exposed to high spikes in temperature, so it takes longer for the fruit to ripen, making the flavors more complex.

 
TJ’s Organic Fair Trade Sumatra Coffee

 

TJ’s Organic Fair Trade Sumatra Coffee

FIELD NOTES

Geographic Origin: Small, family farms, in the northern region of the island
Elevation: 4,265 to 7,545 feet
Conditions: Under the shade of trees in highly fertile, volcanic soils
Roast: Medium-Dark
Price: $7.99 for 13 oz

FINDINGS

Bean Appearance: Large beans, dark color, very oily
Tasting Notes: playful aroma that dances in the nose, stable-y in a good clean horse way, dark – definitely the darker end of medium-dark, bitter, cocoa notes, kind of dry at the end, nothing too sweet, to sum it up – ooh, this is good
Character: When wouldn’t you drink it? Killer iced coffee or affogato
Interesting Insight: The beans are picked, washed and pulped by hand, using the distinctive “wet-hulling” process. This unique production method, known in Indonesia as Giling Basah, contributes to the signature character.

 
TJ's Single Origin Coffee Character Scatter Graph
 

Cupping Terms

Acidity: Acidity is to coffee as carbonation is to soda. Without carbonation, soda would be flat—and without acidity, coffee would be dull. Good acidity is the pleasant snap, tingle or bite in the mouth. This is not to be confused with sourness, an extreme of acidity with an unpleasant sharpness. 

Body: The way the coffee physically feels in the mouth. The impression of the coffee can feel light and roll around the front of the tongue, or heavy, coating the back of the tongue. The body tends to increase with the darkness of the roast.

Bold: Strong intensity, full body, rich and robust flavor profile. Often used to describe darker roasts.

Cupping: A technique for detecting the tastes and aromas of a selection of brewed coffees. The process typically involves sniffing, slurping and swallowing each coffee, in order to determine each coffee's unique characteristics. 

Flavor: The primary range of tastes (sweet, sour, bitter and salty) of the coffee detected by the tongue*, as well as the secondary aromas picked up by the nose.

Finish: The flavors of the aftertaste that linger on the palate after coffee is swallowed. The finish can also describe the feeling left on the tongue. The mouth may feel dry and parched or smooth and silky.

Winey: Describes a wine-like flavor with acidic and fruity notes. Tangy and tart in the mouth. Often associated with African coffees.

 

*Figure A — The Tongue

Zones of relative sensitivity to the different tastes.
Note: ALL tastes can be detected wherever there are taste buds.

 

Trader Joe's Coffee Character Tongue Map
 
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Tags: Coffee, Cupping, Roasting, Single Origin